VICTORIA -- The Royal Canadian Navy has announced it is formally dropping the term "seaman" for its junior members and will replace it with the gender-neutral "sailor."

The navy, like many others around the world, has long used the designations of “ordinary seaman,” “able seaman,” “leading seaman” and “master seaman” for its members.

Starting next week, those titles will be changed to "sailor third class," "sailor second class," "sailor first class," and "master sailor," the Navy announced Thursday.

The move comes after an online survey of navy members and the general public last month garnered more than 75 per cent support for the change, according to Vice-Admiral Art McDonald, the commander of the navy.

"While ours is proudly a service steeped in tradition – a service which was historically dominated by straight, cis, white males – it’s equally, necessarily, and proudly a modern service that prides itself on striving to continuously evolve in-step with the nation," McDonald said in a statement.

Despite the majority support for the change, the navy commander said the poll and online dialogue revealed "prejudice and hate" in the service, and called the revelations "heartbreaking."

On July 24, the navy's deputy commander responded to online posts attacking the military's plan to drop the term "seaman," which he said were "hateful, misogynistic and racist."

"These comments serve as a reminder of our need to call out cowardly attacks such as these, and remind us also that we should take every opportunity to show support for minority and marginalized groups," said Rear-Admiral Chris Sutherland in a message shared on Facebook.

"I am shocked that you think that your comments would be acceptable, and that you are not able to recognize that those you are disparaging are the very people dedicating their lives to afford you the freedom to comment," he added.

On Thursday, the commander of the navy invited any Canadian Armed Forces members who share the hateful views expressed in the comments to identify themselves or leave the forces immediately.

"Let me be clear: such negative and in some cases illegal sentiments and expressions are unequivocally unacceptable," McDonald said.

"Further, those embracing them are not welcome in the RCN/CAF where we have zero tolerance for racist, anti-Semitic, misogynistic and discriminatory behaviours of any kind in our ranks," he added.

"So, for those who contributed such – and you know who you are – do the right thing and identify yourself to your superiors so that we can get you the help you need to identify and overcome your biases and prejudices or help you leave the navy whose modern culture you obviously do not share." 

The new rank designations will be effective Sept. 4, but the navy says changing the titles in the force's orders, publications and regulations will likely take several years.